Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Dazed

So far, this is not shaping up to be a great summer.

For the first time since 2012, I've been out of work during the warm months. I usually take a temp assignment during summer break, but it has yet to materialize and I fear that it won't anytime soon. I was able to clear out my credit card debt with part of my inheritance (thanks, Mom and Grandma) but I might end up back in debt soon enough. It has been a struggle to stay motivated on various projects. To elaborate:

I'm writing comedy sketches again. For the first time in nearly four years I'm enrolled in a class at Second City; I'm taking an eight-week writing intensive that is offered to conservatory graduates. I had to get a waiver for the course because it'd been so long since I graduated (almost four years ago).

When I'm not dealing with these two family estates, I've undertaken a long-delayed cleaning and organizing project. I have a large (to put it mildly) sports card collection; I've been fishing around for items to sell on eBay *cough* while also buying new supplies to store my cards. Some of the earliest cards in my collection, given to me by my great-great-aunt around 1989-90, were still in old shoe-boxes. Given that the market at a low tide, selling cards on eBay has been an uphill battle to say the least.

I guess there are some perks to being temporarily underemployed: my schedule is flexible enough to enjoy a few day trips, and I'm catching up with reading. Still, with five weeks until the school year starts, I sincerely hope I find some short-term temp work.

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Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Dance of Despair

Ten years ago this week, I went to a strip club for the first and only time.

I went because my Uncle Jim insisted. He was a bachelor in his early 50s, in a long-term relationship with a sweet albeit docile woman. Jim started asking me around my 21st birthday, and asked a few more times over the next two years before I finally agreed. One Saturday night in July, Jim picked me up in his rusted out 1988 Firebird, we had dinner at my grandmother's house, and then we drove off to a gentlemen's club near Romeoville. In the parking lot, we were joined by a church friend of Jim's, another lifelong bachelor with a gross attitude about women.

As I sat down in the front row of the club, I noticed that one of the dancers kept giving me a weird look. She was a tall, leggy brunette with lilac-colored lingerie, awkwardly attempting to wiggle around the floor in two-inch heels with all the other dancers. Most of these women were eager to connect with any and all customers, but this particular dancer had already written me off, and I wasn't sure why. My uncle's friend noticed that she was glaring at us, too.

I figured that the best thing to do was not think about it. I had a couple of beers, and Jim paid for my one lapdance of the evening. Her stage name was Tiffani, and before she unclasped her bra she gave me a disclaimer in a squeaky, inarticulate monotone: no touching, no licking, and above all no attempting to remove the pasties. I sat uncomfortably still in the Barcalounger for five minutes as this woman gyrated half-heartedly around my head and torso. After the lapdance, I walked back downstairs, then sat around for another hour or so before Jim and I left.

As Uncle Jim drove me back to my house, he kept egging me about whether or not I had a good time; his attempt at male bonding was well-intended, but I found the whole experience to be uncomfortable. I didn't want to hurt his feelings, so I just nodded and said "okay" as he tried to lead the witness. Jim made it clear that he wanted to go back with me towing along, but I was non-committal. Alas, there wouldn't be a next time; our schedules kept clashing, and Jim died of pancreatic cancer less than 18 months later. I have felt little to no desire to go back to the club on my own volition.

A week or so after my strip club experience, I realized why that tall brunette kept staring at me: she was a high school classmate. All I remember is that her first name started with a "B," we had a political science class together at North, and she graduated the year before me. Out of embarrassment as well as her privacy, I have made no effort to reach out to her or find out her current whereabouts. On that one Saturday night in July 2007, we were both a little mortified.

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Taking a Soft Left

If 2016 was a bad year for to be a liberal, then 2017 burnishes that. There have been five special elections for vacated seats in congress, and all five were retained by the GOP. The Democratic Party tried four completely different strategies in all four races, and despite a relatively narrow loss for Jon Ossoff in Georgia, they were all abject failures.

Unfortunately, the Democratic Party as it stands now is aging and out of touch. The 2014 midterms and the 2016 election both exposed the lack of bench depth. President Obama is retired more or less, and party luminaries like Sec. Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Dick Durbin are all on the wrong side of 65. It is a party whose platform should appeal to millennials, a group that is more keen on social issues than any other generation in American history, and the Democrats are muffing it.

Even though we still have plenty of time to speculate, the field of candidates in 2020 so far isn't offering much promise. Martin O'Malley, the man who finished a distant third in the 2016 primaries, is not only perceived as too moderate, but has a history of race issues. Corey Booker has foot-in-mouth disease and too many corporate ties. Warren might be the most suitable, if she's willing to run, but she'll also be 71 years old on Election Day. Barring some minor miracle, we could very well be stuck with President Trump until 2025, when he'll be 78 and even more unintelligible than he is now.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My 12th Annual Fantasy Emmy Ballot

With each passing year, the Emmy Award get harder to predict.  The one aspect of this year's awards that most people can concur is this might be the year streaming usurped cable and broadcast TV. With the major networks struggling to stay relevant and perennial premium channel nominees like "Game of Thrones" sitting out the year, I expect Netflix and Hulu to fill the gaps and then some.

When I wrote my first fantasy Emmy ballot in May 2006, I was throwing a bone and hoping against hope that a number of overlooked performances and underappreciated shows would get some deserved gratification. It was an era that was light on quality TV comedy; it annoyed me ceaselessly that Jon Cryer and Tony Shalhoub would keep winning for good performances on mediocre TV shows, but a show like "Scrubs" barely made a dent. The drama categories were as cutthroat as they've ever been, but the made-for-TV movie and miniseries --er, uh, "limited series"-- were both on life support. Now it seems like the committee and their voters are more in simpatico with critical acclaim and all-around buzz. About 85 to 90% of the nominees below will very likely get a nod come July 13th; the other 10-15% are wishful thinking. I'll let you debate which is which.

Here is my 2017 Fantasy Emmy Ballot:

Supporting Actress, Drama: Uzo Aduba, Orange is the New Black; Millie Bobbie Brown, Stranger Things; Chrissy Metz, This is Us; Thandie Newton, Westworld; Winona Ryder, Stranger Things; Maura Tierney, The Affair.
Supporting Actor, Drama: Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul; Jared Harris, The Crown; Michael Kelly, House of Cards; John Lithgow, The Crown; Christian Slater, Mr. Robot; Jeffrey C. Wright, Westworld.
Supporting Actress, Comedy: Zazie Beetz, Atlanta; Anna Chlumsky, Veep; Jane Krakowski, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Judith Light, Transparent; Andrea Martin, Great News; Kate McKinnon, SNL.
Supporting Actor, Comedy: Louie Anderson, Buckets; Alec Baldwin, SNL; Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Tituss Burgess, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Tony Hale, Veep; Matt Walsh, Veep.

Leading Actress, Drama: Christine Baranski, The Good Fight; Carrie Coon, The Leftovers; Viola Davis, How to Get Away with Murder; Elizabeth Moss, The Handmaid's Tale; Keri Russell, The Americans; Robin Wright, House of Cards.
Leading Actor, Drama: Sterling K. Brown, This is Us; Rami Malek, Mr. Robot; Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul; Matthew Rhys, The Americans; Liev Schreiber, Ray Donovan; Kevin Spacey, House of Cards.
Leading Actress, Comedy: Ellie Kemper, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Issa Rae, Insecure; Tracie Ellis Ross, Black-ish; Alia Shawkat, Search Party; Lily Tomlin, Grace and Frankie.
Leading Actor, Comedy: Anthony Anderson, Black-ish; Aziz Ansari, Master of None; Donald Glover, Atlanta; William H. Macy, Shameless; Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley; Jeffrey Tambor, Transparent.

Best Variety Talk Series: "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," TBS; "Jimmy Kimmel Live," ABC; "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," HBO; "The Late, Late Show with James Corden," CBS; "Late Night with Seth Meyers," NBC; "Late Show with Stephen Colbert," CBS.
Best Variety Sketch Series: "Billy on the Street," TruTV; "Documentary Now!," IFC; "Drunk History," Comedy Central; "Portlandia," IFC; "The President Show," Comedy Central; "Saturday Night Live," NBC.
Best Limited Series: "Big Little Lies," HBO; "Fargo," FX; "Feud: Bette and Joan," FX; "Guerrila," Showtime; "The Night Of," HBO.
Best Dramatic Series: "The Americans," FX; "Better Call Saul," AMC; "House of Cards," Netflix; "Orange is the New Black," Netflix; "This is Us," NBC; "Westworld," HBO.
Best Comedy Series: "Atlanta," FX; "Black-ish," ABC; "Silicon Valley," HBO; "Transparent," Amazon Prime; "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Netflix; "Veep," HBO.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

She Never Saw the Flood Lights

As most of you know by now, my mother passed away on May 27th and was buried earlier this week. Without going too far into detail, this is a transcript of the eulogy that I read on June 7th:

"For those of you didn’t know my mother, allow me to give you an idea of the person she was:

Where my father was well-traveled, my mother spent 95% of her life in or around Downers Grove. She was born at Hinsdale Hospital, grew up in Downers and Westmont, graduated high school from Downers North, spent 17 years working at the Marshall Field’s at Oakbrook Mall –where, incidentally, she met my father—and lived nearly her entire life in DG. She did some traveling, though her idea of a distant, faraway excursion was either Lake Geneva or the family farm in Coldwater, MI.

My mother was quirky. She was fascinated by rubber ducks, and when we moved into our current residence in 2004, she gave the hallway bathroom a rubber duck motif. When the Egg Harbor Café in downtown Downers started giving away mini-rubber ducks, my mother adorned them all over the dashboard of her 2010 Mercury Milan.

At the same time, my mother and I did not have a lot of shared interests. She was fascinated by classic cars, I was not. Her record collection was loaded with Barbra Streisand and original Broadway cast recordings, and I had no interest in either. I like baseball and hockey, but she vehemently hated sports. She liked sugary snacks –she had a sweet tooth—and I was cautious about what I ate.
Sharon watched a lot of TV, but as I just alluded to, our tastes in TV shows varied significantly. She liked old school, rural-based shows like “Green Acres” and “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and even though I don’t hate either show, the appeal was lost one me. My mother and I did have two shows in common: “M*A*S*H,” which is an evergreen, but we were both surprised to discover we both liked “My Name is Earl.” That might have been the only TV show we made a note of watching together, more often than not. On the other hand, there was no hesitation deleting “Two Broke Girls” from the living room DVR. We didn’t have the heart to tell her the show had been cancelled, either.

My mother knew how to push my buttons. Half the time it was hard to tell if she was oblivious but well-meaning, or she knew precisely how to annoy me. She had a tendency to forget to tell my sister and I about a special event like, say, a neighbor’s anniversary or a block party, until the last minute. If Ma was upset about something, she would make Bridget test me or call me to tell me she was upset, rather than doing it herself.

Sharon was also a luddite. Her distrust of modern technology bordered into irrational hatred. Maybe it was because her side of the family were farmers and mechanics, and had no need for such things, I don’t know. Regardless, because of her stubbornness we didn’t have a PC in our house until 1998, we didn’t have the internet until 2002, and we didn’t have cable until 2008. She had a cell phone, the most basic phone Verizon could make, and she turned it on maybe once a month, in case of emergency. Ma didn’t even have an email until maybe three years ago, and it was my sister’s responsibility to check it once or twice a week.

As some of you know, Sharon had a laundry list of health issues. She had been in and out of hospitals since was five or six years old. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another. At one point in the early 1980s, her immune system failed and she spent three weeks in a plastic bubble. To her, a hospital stay was somewhere between an annoyance and a diversion. Please forgive me if I sound like a broken record, but my sister and I were convinced that regardless of everything she had gone through, she would somehow persevere and live into her 80s.

The last chapter of her life more or less began in February 2015. She had a cardiologist appointment at Good Samaritan Hospital here in Downers; during a routine check-up, the doctor discovered 70% blockage in four of her arteries, as well as an aneurysm emerging in her aorta. They performed quadruple bypass surgery immediately, but because Sharon was underweight –I don’t want to say fragile—they held off on treating the aorta until she was on firmer physical footing.

Earlier this year, my mother was complaining of dizzy spells and blurred vision. A visit to a prominent neurologist revealed that she had an aneurysm in the right hemisphere of her brain. In early April, she was underwent brain surgery at Rush Medical Center on the near west side of the city; even though it was an elaborated and complicated procedure that only a handful of neurosurgeons could perform, it has been perfected, and best-case scenario my mother would have been out of the hospital in three or four days.

Then complications arose. The brain surgery was a success, but it inadvertently ruptured the aortic aneurysm, so two days later my mother had heart surgery. She had two stents placed in her body in the span of 2 ½ days. She went home over a week later, but the moment she walked into the house, she complained of abdominal pain; she couldn’t hold any food down, and within 2 ½ hours Bridget had called the paramedics, my mother was sent to Good Sam, and then 12 hours after checking out she was back in the ICU at Rush. She ended up getting a third stent, connected to where she had heart surgery less than two weeks before.

After nearly a month at Rush, my mother was cleared for rehab in early May. The process of getting back on her feet had its ups and downs, but she did the maximum 20 days covered by the insurance and finally home –for good, we thought—on May 24th. She was exhausted and still not holding food down, but she was adamant that she didn’t want to go back to the hospital. Sharon insisted she needed to get back into her daily routine at home, and she needed a few more days. I had left for the Omaha Improv Festival that Friday morning; Mom was “hangry” but moving about the house. I said “I love you” one last time just as she lied back in her bed for a late morning nap.

When I was on the road, my sister called to tell me that she called the paramedics again; she was battling the abdominal pain that she had six weeks earlier. She spent the night in the ER before going into the Critical Care Unit at Good Sam. My sister visited her that Saturday; Mom was being fed through an IV, and she was gradually becoming her normal self again. When my sister drove home, the physician on duty called to tell her Mom had gone into code blue. My sister rushed back to the hospital; she had stopped breathing and suffered significant brain damage. My mother was wired to a phalanx of machines, and just for a moment she was able to breathe without artificial means. However, she stopped breathing again soon after, CPR was performed, and in spite of the nurses’ best efforts she flatlined.

It would be remiss of me to not mention that Sharon was a “dog mommy.” We have two dogs, Duke (a Maltese-Poodle mix) and Henry (shorthair Dachshund). The older of the two, Duke was originally a Sweet 16 present of my sister’s, but soon enough became my mother’s dog. Duke would follow my mother around, sleep on her bed, and whine whenever she left the house. With the health issues my parents had, it became too much of a hassle to take the dogs out on walks. We had no choice but to have the dogs do their business in the backyard, which was a hassle of sorts after dusk because that side of the house is very dimly lit. When my mother was in rehab, my cousin Tom installed a small panel of flood lights with sensors in between the shingles and the gutters. Even though my mother was home for 2 ½ days after –notice the recurrence of two and a half in this eulogy—she never had an opportunity to see the lights. Whenever I’m out with Duke or Henry at 10 o’clock at night, I’ll look at those flood lights and think of Ma. She would’ve been quite impressed.

Ma, you’re going to be missed. To those of you who attended today, thank you for coming."


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Monday, May 22, 2017

Through a Seventh Freshman's Eyes

It's that time of year again. This year's high school senior crop (and assumed college freshmen) were born between Fall 1998 and Summer 1999, mere babes during Y2K hysteria and the other goings-on at the turn of the century. With each passing year, their perspective compared to previous generations looks a little more skewed, and things they take for granted might have been something we weren't aware about when we were their age.  Once again, with all due apologies to Beloit College, I present my annual homemade "Memory List":

If you're a graduating senior...

...impeaching the President of the United States has always been a possibility.
...the threat of a school shooting has always been very, very real.
...Slobodan Milosevic was never President of Serbia.
...Europe has always had (or attempted to have) a unifying currency.
...India and Pakistan have always had nuclear powers.
...baseball has always been tainted by steroids and PEDs.
...the Latino population in the U.S. has always increased by about one million people.
...the Dow Jones Industrial Average has almost always been above 10,000.
...there have always been anti-vaxxers.
...you vaguely remember your parents winning an eBay auction on a grape-colored iMac.
...Bluetooth, Blackberry, and instant/no-tray ice have always been a thing.
...Michael J. Fox has always been open and forthcoming about his battle with Parkinson's Disease.
...there have always been mediocre "Star Wars" prequels.
..."The Sopranos" and "Sex & The City" have always been part of the pop culture conversation, and there's always been more to HBO than just movies and sex documentaries.
...Regis Philbin was a game show host first, and a daytime talk show host second.
...Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel have always been on TV in some capacity.
...Mike Scioscia has always been manager of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, California, United States, Earth.
...Dirk Nowitzki and Vince Carter have always played in the NBA.
...Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Marian Hossa have always played in the NHL.
...Michael Jordan never played for the Chicago Bulls, Wayne Gretzky has never laced a set of skates, and John Elway has always been a football executive.
...the Nashville Predators have always been in existence, and the Cleveland Browns have never taken a year off from football.
...Susan Lucci's name has always been preceded by the phrase "Emmy winner."
...Bill Murray has never hosted SNL.
...they have never stayed up to watch Tom Snyder.
...you think "Melrose Place" is a Chicago suburb. (You're thinking of Melrose Park.)
..."Spongebob Squarepants" and "Family Guy" have always been on TV.
...the original host of The Daily Show was Jon Stewart.
...Gene Siskel, Stanley Kubrick, Matthew Shepard, Joe DiMaggio, Dan Quisenberry, George Wallace, John Ehrlichman, Doak Walker, Gene Autry, Hal Newhouser, Weeb Eubank, Roddy McDowall, Alan J. Pakula, Flip Wilson, Esther Rolle, Norman Fell, Flo-Jo, the one guy from Milli Vanilli, Dusty Springfield, Dana Plato, Rick Rude, Owen Hart, Shel Silverstein, DeForest Kelly, and John F. Kennedy Jr. have always been dead.

In case you missed it, here's last year's list. Again, my apologies if I made you feel old.

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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Last Days (Which Probably Aren't the Last Days)

This might be my last blog post with Donald Trump as President of the United States. Chances are, its not. Regardless, the fallout from Trump's dismissal of FBI Director James Comey last week has been both dizzying and winsome. The revelation of Trump blurting out classified information to Russian officials, while not technically illegal, was certainly annoying to DC insiders but alienating to several key American allies. The narrative is less about cohesion with Russia the possibility of corruption and more about incompetence and ego. And yet, somehow Trump might still persevere.

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me that most Trump supporters aren't feeling too much buyer's remorse. The vicious cycle of conservative blogs, each regurgitating the same shallow bullet points while creating half-truths and exaggerations about their liberal opponents, are manna for angry fools. Let them blame the mainstream media for doing their job, or cast off late night comedians for their right to satirize and skew public figures. A former president attempted to censor the media via executive order, and it blew up in his face. (I'm aware that President Trump doesn't know his history, but the point stands.) The "bubble" or beehive mentality that might have cost Sec. Clinton the election works both ways. The sad thing, even if Trump goes his ardent supporters will not give it a rest, doubling down on the internet-born, nonsense conspiracy theories that attempted to hound --and still try to vex-- Presidents Clinton and Obama. Right-wing outsiders have cherry-picked Trump as their man, and they're backing him to the bitter end.

Regardless, the rural whites that saw Trump as a shining white knight 6 1/2 months ago must be seeing some sort of rust in the armor now. This was a man who both took advantage and navigated through a weak but excessively large crop of candidates for his party's nomination. He constructed his agenda in saying the things that other Republicans allegedly think but won't say out loud --more conspiracy theory-- and in the process dragged the GOP into the mud. Despite what some liberal bloggers have implied, the Republican Party is not built on racism and isolationism, but he dragged those two ugly ideas into the voting booths. His four months in office have matched his bluster, defined by a litany of executive orders in the early going, but only getting one bill (AHCA) passed through Congress. In blogs past, I letter-graded the Bush 43 and Obama administrations; in the very hypothetical situation that Trump leaves office before 2021 (or June), I don't know if I would give him a grade higher than D-.

Nearly four months in, the Trump administration's greatest achievement its the most scandal-plagued since Bill Clinton's, and at this rate it will eclipse Whitewater, Paula Jones, and whatever else our 42nd president deflected two decades ago. The people that feared and loathed "Crooked Hillary" are stuck with "Bungling Donald." It would make sense for President Trump to resign, but his pride and various past indicators suggest it won't happen. No elected Republican in either house will be breaking rank with Trump or their party anytime soon. The possibility of up to 11 1/2 years with a President Mike Pence (not a typo) may not seem palatable to many, but at least we can all concur that he would be a far more competent and even-keeled presence in the Oval Office. At the moment, for many Americans its just a pipe dream.

Next Week: my annual high school graduate "memory list."

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Random Notes, May 2017

April showers bring... May showers, I guess.

+ While some people have a right to be concerned about what AHCA entails, a fair number of people are also overreacting. It may have eked itself out of the House of Representatives, but the U.S. Senate is not nearly as favorable to President Trump, nor contains a clear Republican majority. That whole blasted mess could be totally rewritten. I guess House Republicans had a right to celebrate, if only because they had failed so many times before, but that adrenaline shot of victory will likely be short-lived.

+ Speaking of Republicans, it would be lovely if one of them broke rank and admonished the Trump administration for the firing of FBI director James Comey (not to mention the White House's pitiful reaction to the sacking). Its not going to happen soon, but someone is bound to break through. Though we still don't know in what way, shape of form the Russian government communicated with the Trump presidential campaign last year, Comey's dismissal still feels rather fishy. The last time a president fired a prosecutor who was investigating the administration was Archibald Cox in 1973... and we all know how that went.

+ Family Update: after nearly a month, my mother finally transitioned from the intensive care unit of Rush Medical Center and into a rehab facility. The insurance covers up to 20 days, and as of this writing she's making some progress but battling uphill against muscle atrophy. I'll keep you all posted.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Boom Boom Ticker

When it comes to health issues, my mother has never taken the simple route. When Rush Medical Center in downtown Chicago called my sister and I to inform us that my mother was ready to check out, we were a little confused. Her condition was stable, but we concurred that she needed a few more days to convalesce and be observed. It was a Saturday afternoon, so traffic from the west suburbs wasn't horrible; my mother was relatively quiet for most of the ride. When we came home, however she immediately complained of abdominal pain and dizziness. When Carafate and a glass of 2% milk didn't do the trick, my sister called 911. She was rushed to the local hospital, and within hours landed right back in the Rush ICU.

As I write this my mother has been in the hospital for 22 days, including her 2 1/2 "layover" at home. She ended up having another heart surgery two days after she was readmitted, and a minor procedure to adjust the brain stent two days after that. After that last procedure, she made it adamantly clear that she wanted no more surgery, even though she wasn't out of the woods just yet. Her doctors believe that one of her aorta stents is leaking and needs an adjustment, and everyone (including myself) believes one more procedure would be necessary. My mother, stubborn to a fault, is reluctant to weigh the option.

So what happens now? On Saturday morning, my sister and I will meet with my mother's team to discuss how to move forward. If my mother continues to refuse, she has about a year to reconsider; otherwise, the aorta leak could potentially kill her. Please stay tuned, and keep my family in your thoughts.

(550)

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Not as Late, But Still Lamented


Today, David Letterman turned 70. (I know, I know, *only* 70.) This milestone would probably not elicit much merit if not for two things: an extensive, newly released biography written by NYT comedy critic Jason Zinoman, as well as Dave's typically self-deprecating induction of Pearl Jam into the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. The former has been years in the making, the latter happened on 48 hours' notice after Neil Young backed out. Both have vaulted the erstwhile late night funnyman back into the spotlight, albeit with some reluctance.
The first time I was ever allowed to stay up to watch a late night talk show was Dave's first CBS show in August 1993. I had just turned nine, and I only knew of Johnny Carson et al. by reputation at the time. Even at the formative age, I found his sardonic wit and no-guff approach refreshing. My father, however insisted on watching Jay Leno most nights; I had my first taste of Leno's Tonight Show a night or two later, and was thoroughly underwhelmed. Once I had my own TV, I didn't hit the hay until after I watched Dave.
If you want a better understanding of how Dave was the late night sui generis, I highly recommend visiting Don Giller's YouTube page. Where Carson and his predecessors hosted a talk show that happened to air after the late news, Letterman reinvented the whole sub-genre of late night comedy. These clips, mostly from the "Late Night" years (1982-1993) are not just of historical value but are still fairly entertaining.
Also, if you want to read my tribute to Dave from three years ago, you can click here.
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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Double Whammy

Two weeks ago, my grandmother died at age 93. I've discussed her in passing, probably because the grandma I knew growing up wasn't the same woman she had been since 2000 or 2001. She battled depression for a fair amount of her adult life, and that segued into dementia in her later years; I watched firsthand her gradual decline from forgetfulness to erratic behavior to childlike daffiness to ambivalent confusion. It would be harsh to say that the time and effort it took to care for her was a burden; in a lot of ways, it was a tag-team obstacle course with a sometimes cooperative opponent. My mother was convinced that in spite of her mental condition Grandma would live to be 100; even before she started having colon and respiratory issues in mid-February, I was skeptical.

On that note, earlier this week my mother had brain surgery. Two days later, the previous procedure apparently ruptured her aortic aneurysm, which forced a second surgery. The procedures were performed at Rush Medical Center downtown; both the neurosurgeon and cardiologist were experts in their particular fields, performing meticulous acts of surgical derring-do that would have been unheard of 25 years ago. Other preexisting medical conditions have turned a two-night visit into a one-week-plus stint in the ICU, but she should be moving into a regular room sooner than later. I'll keep you all posted.

With my grandmother no longer distracting us, and my mother temporarily out of the picture, my sister finally started cleaning out my father's belongings. I frequently referred to him, both alive and dead, as a pack rat. Upon spending an hour in our basement rummaging through his old vacation tote bag and some plastic tubs, it was evident that he was a borderline hoarder. The bright green tote bag revealed years of old ketchup packets, soap bars, and fast food napkins; a fair percentage of the contents included faded receipts from long-ago restaurant visits and more than a few airline tags and tickets. Thank goodness nothing had leaked, since I assumed my mother might want to reuse this cherished luggage.

(548)

Monday, March 27, 2017

30 Teams, 30 Haiku: My 2017 Baseball Preview


My beloved Kansas City Royals were subdued by a World Series hangover one year later than anticipated. The realities of free agency defanged our rotation and bullpen in 2016, and injuries took their toll on key position players like Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon. Free agency continued to nibble away True Blue in 2017 --top thief Jarrod Dyson was due for a raise, now he's in Seattle-- and it looks like this will be the last year our 2015 championship core will stay intact. The biggest blow of all, however was the sudden and untimely death of Yordano Ventura in mid-January. For all his immaturity and anger issues, Ace was a team leader and the rock of our rotation. Like the passing of manager Dick Howser in the wake of the 1985 World Series, my Royals must soldier on in the face of adversity and tragedy.

Without further ado, my 2017 MLB forecast. I've been doing this haiku thing for a few years now, so I think my regular readers know the drill:

NL EAST
1. Nationals. That “win now” mantra/got louder; lack of closer/sole flaw. Still, they’re stacked.
2. Mets*. Aging stars must hit/to back up Thor and deGrom/playoffs are in sight.
3. Marlins. Fish gasping for air/soap opera atmosphere/Stanton carries load.
4. Phillies. Ruf never raised it/so he’s gone; dropping Howard/moves progress forward.
5. Braves. The worst is over/new ballpark, Dansby is real/but still young and raw.

NL CENTRAL
1. Cubs. So much for curses/potential dynasty looms/weak link? Pitching depth.
2. Cardinals*. Plenty of weapons/almost a model franchise/not much power, though.
3. Pirates. Outside looking in/competitive, nothing more/young guys must produce.
4. Brewers. Villar, future star/keeping Braun around is the/biggest obstacle.
5. Reds. Treading water, like/”snipe hunt” for Red October/Votto is trade bait.

NL WEST
1. Dodgers. Puig, that wild card/could make or break contender/Kershaw? Still a beast.
2. Giants. An odd-numbered year/no curse or jinx, please watch out/key guys in their prime.
3. D-Backs. Building blocks in place/stud pitchers need rebound year/Paul can’t do it all.
4. Rockies. Mountainous bats paired/with iffy pitching; nothing/changes in Denver.
5. Padres. Nothing to see here/all-around ghastly pitching/oh, poor Wil Myers.

AL EAST
1. Red Sox. These ungodly arms/make up for power outage/Killer B’s will swarm.
2. Blue Jays*. Health questions aside/rotation is a sleeper/Jose must hit bombs.
3. Yankees. Can huge outfielder/hit? I’ll be the Judge of that/watch out in ‘18.
4. Orioles. Birds can flat-out hit/plus underrated bullpen/The rotation? Meh.
5. Rays. The best last place team/85 losses in no/win scenario.

AL CENTRAL
1. Indians. Adding EE helps/injuries notwithstanding/Plum City tastes sweet.
2. Royals. Losing Ace, a blow/pitching? Sturdy but middling/making one last go.
3. Tigers. Miggy, muy bien/no flashy new guys, just a/solid status quo.
4. Twins. Hard to figure out/no bull on Dozier, yet/supporting cast lacks.
5. White Sox. Rebuilding, at last/James Shields can’t get any worse/and youth might prevail.

AL WEST
1. Rangers. These Texans stand pat/lengthy list of injuries/only obstacle.
2. Astros*. As long as starters/don’t overwork the bullpen/World Series dark horse.
3. Mariners. What a overhaul/King Felix getting crowned could/derail new look M’s.
4. Angels. Trout doesn’t have a/swimming situation; old/fogies hold him back.
5. Athletics. Moneyball critics/chuckle; versatile infield/doesn’t impress now.

NL MVP: Kris Bryant, Cubs
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
AL CY Young: Corey Kluber, Indians
NL Rookie of the Year: Dansby Swanson, Braves
AL Rookie of the Year: Yoan Moncada, White Sox
Comeback Player of the Year: Yu Darvish, Rangers
First Manager Fired: Bryan Price, Reds
2017 World Series: Red Sox over Cubs in 6

Play ball!

Monday, March 20, 2017

Comey 'Round the Corner

This presidency is turning into bad performance art. For every random declaration or misguided tweet Donald Trump delivers, the shortsightedness of his administration works its gears. This observation can be applied to a wide variety of executive orders and declarations, but it would be considered an understatement in regard to Trump's baseless allegation of wiretapping by the Obama administration. This act of unprecedented heresy proves President Trump's reliance on fringe-right "news" outlets like Alex Jones' Infowars and Breitbart.

Today's marathon hearing by FBI Director James Comey proved once and for all that our president is easily bamboozled. An exhaustive investigation proved no circumstantial evidence of wiretapping, and it only served to remind the public that the Trump campaign had some kind of contact with the Russian government during the 2016 election. (Whether that was in and of itself illegal remains to be seen.) President Trump has every right to apologize, but we won't; his supporters, gradually dwindling but still fervent, would never expect him to kowtow to anything, including the truth.

That is not to say, however that Comey is a knight in shining armor. His dangling around of Secretary Clinton's email investigation last October may have cost her the election. Conspiracy theories that suggest Comey is in cahoots with Trump are also baseless, but the ex-Republican still comes across as smarmy and self-serving. His revelations in recent months may not have redeemed him in his critics eyes, but unlike some Trump administration officials, Comey demonstrated that he is a civil servant simply doing his job.

Next week: my annual baseball preview.

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Curious Case of the Tetchy Talent

A couple of weeks ago a small, independently owned Chicago performance space --a "storefront theater," if you will-- shuttered after allegations came to light regarding the treatment of a former contributor and player. This happened less than a year after another performance space shut down shop because of egregious abuse of its actors and crew. I have nothing but respect for the people that were brave enough to be vocal about what had happened, and I believe the management of these establishments deserved what was coming to them.

These two incidents, both valuable learning experiences in how not to run an artistic venue of any shape or size, reminded me of an awkward scenario that occurred this past September. Even though I don't think I did anything wrong, I felt the need to come clean about an altercation of sorts I had with another performer:

About once a month, I send out a feeler to potential acts for the show. There was a comedian/actress I was acquainted with that was doing solo material; I was going to ask if she was interested in testing material in our show, I hadn't seen her on social media recently. I had an email address, and that was it. I sent it out with a few other candidates, and within an hour I received this reply:

Stu--I am not interested in a professional or interpersonal relationship. Please respect this and don't contact me again.

I was baffled by this reply, as was Dan my business partner, who shares the account. Dan's most educated guess was that she was weirded out because I had her email. In the time that I had been acquainted with this actress (less than four years) I had never said or done anything to suggest going out on a date, nor considered doing so. I vaguely recall sending her a LinkedIn request earlier in the year, one in a binge of potential professional connections. I never considered that I have been blocked on Facebook and Twitter, without a semblance of an idea as to her rationale for doing so.

I've only been in a handful of situations before where I had some sort of falling out with other members of the Chicago comedy community. I can think of one or two scenarios where personalities clashed, but in the other cases it stemmed from miscommunication. I make a valiant effort to treat my peers as equals, and I have never been in a situation in my eight years of performing improv where I intentionally burned bridges. I attest to my social awkwardness, but no acts of malice or deceit. When it comes to booking acts, however I go in with relatively modest expectations.

As for the actress, if she doesn't want to build connections with certain members of the Chicago comedy community, then that's her decision.  If she goes on to alienate other producers and performers, than my part was a small and passive one. I might be one of many or a very singular case, I'm not sure. If I've lost one performer, than I still have a litany of comedians, improvisers, writers, and dancers whom I can still reach out to.  This community is a rich and wonderful group, and I'm proud to be part of it regardless.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

Mark A. Peterson 1978-2017


I was surprised and astonished to hear of the passing of my online friend and real-life acquiantance Mark Peterson. After nearly a month of uncharacteristic silence on Twitter, I learned rather abruptly of his death on February 25th, six days after the fact. Mark had been battling colitis for the last five or six years, and an epic flare-up in mid-January resulted in an extended hospital stay. Whether his death was the result of C.Diff or a previously unknown ailment, I guess we'll never know. A memorial service had been held, and as I write this Mark has likely already been cremated. I found out about his death while on a road trip, so I haven't been able to articulate my thoughts until now.

For those of you that were regulars on TV Tome or TV.com in the mid-to-late 2000s, he was known simply as mp34mp, that opinionated fellow in the SNL, Conan, and sports forums. After he was ignobly banned in 2009, he resurfaced under the alias Dolph Rudager, and maintained that alter ego on Twitter, his sole social media platform. I bonded with him on a variety of levels: we were both from the west Chicago suburbs (he was from Naperville, and I grew up in Downers Grove, we were comedy and music nerds, and we were ardent Chicago Bears fans. That alone was enough to fuel a correspondence that lasted just over 12 years.

In an indirect way, our connection was yin and yang. Where I usually took the high road in internet discussion boards, Mark could be an argument waiting to happen. His presence at TV Tome and TV.com could be polarizing; he was frequently sarcastic and bilious, and had strong opinions that often veered into the minority of the site's groupthink. Even if his penchant for asseveration wore you down, Mark never resorted to name-calling or character assassination. Mark's true weakness was that he was opinionated, and that his opinions were in multitudes.

It was only a matter of time before other site members began to report Mark. CNet was bought out by CBS/Viacom in late 2008, 3 1/2 years after CNet bought out TV Tome's founders and overhauled the site. This noble effort to create a high-quality, all-encompassing TV episode guide and discussion board struggled to make a dent in a crowded market, and the new bosses assumed it was because of internet trolls. The decision to exile Mark and at least a hundred other regular users brought the glory era of TV.com to a halt, and the beginning of its gradual decline into a co-opted clickbait site with a fledgling "community." Alas, Mark found a way to return a few months later --it took me a moment to realize he was Dolph-- but the diminishing rate and quality of discussion was enough to turn him away on his own volition.

I only met Mark once in person. I had a table at a card show in south Naperville, and toward the end of the day he dropped by to say hello. Mark drove a 90s model Ford pick-up truck, and scuttled across the parking lot in 30-degree weather in a light zip-up hoodie. He was tall and a little gangly, with big expressive eyes. I wasn't sure what to anticipate, but he turned out to be gawky and a little awkward. His opinions were legitimate, but he expressed them in a timid and skeptical manner. We spoke for about an hour before we went our separate ways. Mark suggested going bowling sometime, depending upon my schedule. Once he started having back issues, which then segued into colitis and other ailments, the suggestion was shelved indefinitely. Mark suggested going to a White Sox game last summer, specifically for throwback jersey giveaway, but we both forgot that we'd even discussed going. Perhaps we dodged a bullet.

Through email, IM and Twitter, I was able to paint a clearer picture of what Mark was about. He was a loner, a quiet do-it-yourself type living in a small house in unincorporated Naperville. Mark was an only child, and he had a strained relationship with his parents, who psychologically abused him. He was fascinated by greasy fast food, especially White Castle and Arby's, but also adept at cooking. Mark was also a whiz with Photoshop. As for late 2016, he was coming out of an on-again, off-again relationship with a woman in a messy divorce. Mark was living on disability, and was only working sporadically after his last construction job in the late 2000s. His political beliefs were somewhere between libertarian and moderate conservative.

Even if Mark could be trying to be around, he shouldn't have died the way he did, nor as abruptly or as quietly as he passed. He was perennially thirty-something going on 60, ready and willing to be the ornery crank that shouted at kids to get off his lawn. He had just a handful of friends in real life, but was part of a greater community online. In a way, he returned the favor; we seldom agreed on anything, but he was one of my first followers on Twitter when I finally joined in August 2011. The inherent brevity of 140 characters fit him like a glove. If he disagreed with or was annoyed by a tweet, he would say so in a half-joking manner. Mark Peterson wasn't a close friend but his presence, intangible as it often was, will certainly be missed.

NOTE: I will update this post in the next day or so to include a picture of Mark.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Random Notes, February 2017

Typically I'm not very political on social media. Then again, these are very unusual times. I still feel no inclination to support President Trump, and even though I refuse to normalize him, I admit that any chance of him being impeached or resigning from office is pretty slim. This first month in office has been fairly bizarre and at times unwatchable. Trump achieved that most elusive of brass rings in American society, and it seems like he's struggling to justify wanting (or keeping) that grand prize.

President Trump has already demonstrated that he's out of touch, and that his inner circle is more or less calling the shots. That press conference on February 16th was four weeks of chaos in a nutshell, and the Kellyanne Conway/Nordstrom flap demonstrated that his inner circle isn't necessarily on the same page, either. Nearly everyone in the Oval Office beehive is making up stuff as they go along, and only his most ardent supporters are still eating their honey.

Other notes:

+ Please read this excellent and moving essay from a Muslim woman who quit the Trump administration. Its an insider's take the chaos going down as well as a plea for sanity and tolerance.

+ Speaking of social media... since January 19th, I've gained 10 Facebook friends and lost nine. Evidently, a lot of people are deactivating their accounts; I would attribute this to something I might have said or done, but with one exception I've largely avoided political posts. (I save the topical hot takes for Stu News.) I used to be more vocal on my Facebook profile, though I'm more open about current events on Twitter.

+ Last year I achieved the goal of traveling more, and I anticipate continuing the pace in 2017. Next week, my girlfriend and I are driving to Bay City, MI (her childhood hometown) for a friend's 30th birthday party, and I'm heading back to the Omaha Improv Festival on Memorial Day Weekend. Depending upon finances, there might be more road trips in store later in the year.

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Confessions of a Grad School Dropout

Last week, I had to resist the temptation to tweet "I just dropped out of grad school. #AMA"

I understand your cause for concern, whether or not you knew beforehand that I was in grad school. I hadn't told that many people, mostly just my family and close friends, but I was also going into this with some trepidation. This was a moment of self-actualization, without a doubt, but it was also a conflict of want versus need.

In the end, I found myself asking the same question I posed when I first started the paperwork last summer: do I really want to be a teacher?  I had expressed doubts to my adviser, but I was encouraged to soldier on. I earned A's in both of my courses first semester, but the effort felt oddly hollow. Three weeks into my second semester, and after nearly six months on the fence, I finally took a side.

In my mind, the concept of being a teacher was more entertaining than what reality presented. I underestimated the level of bureaucracy involved, and I didn't put into consideration the hours in the day that are necessary to prepare. I spent a lot of time thinking about fun activities in class, but not necessarily the educational substance of the course or adhering to a rigid curriculum. On a more personal level, I also didn't want to sacrifice performing.

So what's next? I started a temp job in mid-December that I really like, and I hope that it eventually becomes a permenant position. After a rough first semester, I'm taking a breather from substitute teaching. I would still like to move back to Chicago city limits at some point before year's end, after an extended delay. Above all, I want to focus on my art and work towards my "big" 2017 resolution of consolidating and simplifying my life. I'm a little disappointed in myself, but at the same time I feel like a burden has been taken off my shoulders.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Cinder Block on the Gas Pedal

The day before the inauguration, I replied to a Twitter hashtag about the proposed wall at the US-Mexico border. Though I hadn't implicitly said it before on social media, I gave the response I normally give in mixed conversation: the wall will serve as a metaphor and not much else; its just a pipe dream for xenophobes. The tweet received nearly a dozen hearts over the span of a week, but it also dragged me into a conversation I wasn't preparing myself to get into. I spent the better part of two days arguing the point and purpose of the wall, how much it would cost, and how the preexisting laws are allegedly not being enforced. I was dismissed at least twice as just another aloof liberal. The whole encounter was a massive headache.

In other words, welcome to Trump's America. The man who spent the better part of 18 months hijacking the Republican Party to cater his own desires has launched the mother of all culture wars. Bigots, homophobes, reactionaries, and the generally under-informed now feel more entitled than ever to throw their weight around. Immigration hardliners now believe their $20 billion* pipe dream is becoming a reality. The quick and prolific succession of executive orders has been bewildering, and the nationwide protest of the temporary ban of Middle Eastern refugees was a justified rebuke. Though I am deeply concerned about Chief of Staff Steve Bannon's influence in Trumps's inner circle, I am more afraid that this new president will be a patsy of the party. The fact that Trump is still squabbling with CNN and the New York Times indicates Bannon has at least one hand on the steering wheel. If former President Obama had to work around gridlock for most of his term, then President Trump is fueling the loggerheads.

Tonight's appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, a prime-time spectacle that didn't have to be, was the closest thing to a bipartisan olive branch we might see in the next four years. Trump could've made a worse pick, but its tough to say which concerns me more: Gorsuch's originalist philosophy, which evokes a "Mini-Me" of the man he might succeed, Antonin Scalia; or that he's not even 50 years old, which could keep Gorsuch on the court for the next 30-plus years. Some Democrats are hoping for a Merrick Garland-type shutdown of the nominee, but I fear that it will not succeed.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are in for a bumpy ride.

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*a conservative estimate, to be honest.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

These Past Eight Years, Part 2

(Click here for part one.)

What President Obama will undoubtedly be most remembered for and most heavily judged upon, is the Affordable Care Act, known more commonly as Obamacare. A piece of legislation this expensive and far-reaching was bound to polarize the nation, as it did throughout the Summer and Fall of 2009. After a prolonged debate, both in public and in both chambers of Congress, not to mention a concession or two, the ACA was passed into law in Spring 2010.  It still proved polarizing, though. The Democrat-led U.S. Senate had lost their super-majority shortly before the ACA vote, then got walloped in the midterm elections 6 1/2 months later. The Tea Party movement tried countless times to repeal or defang Obamacare, and until last week they had done so to little avail.  Whether semi-socialized health care will live on remains to be seen.

In addition, other socially progressive causes flourished in his administration. In January 2009, just a handful of states had legalized marriage equality. By 2015, after a narrow Supreme Court decision, it was the law of the land. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Obama's other far-reaching bill, was a stimulus package that attempted to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and lessen the burden on the middle class. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act both saw the light of day under Obama's guidance and support.

As I listened to the last 20 minutes of his farewell address Tuesday night, I was reminded of Obama's character. For the first time in awhile, I thought of the man behind the policy: the stirring orator, the guarded optimist, and doting husband and father. For a split second, I wasn't that concerned with any flawed legislation and or his sheepish approach to world affairs, but the genuinely compassionate and even-keeled man that alluded to hope and change in 2007-08.

Eight years ago, I gave George W. Bush a C-/D+ as he left office; to some critics, that may have been somewhat generous, but I stand by that grade. Dubya was mediocre to put it mildly, but we've had far worse commanders in chief. With the Obama years down to its last week or so, I would put our 44th president somewhere in the B/B- range. President Obama was effective but flawed, but more often then not his collected demeanor matched his altruistic leadership.

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Friday, January 6, 2017

I Resolve...

A few years ago, I elaborated upon my obsession with the number 17. Now that we're in the year 2017, I've been wanted to mark the occasion in some way, though I'm hard-pressed to do so. Allow me to explain:

For the last few years, I've set a broad, sometimes vaguely defined New Year's resolution. In 2015, I resolved to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances; the end result was, for lack of a more thorough explanation, a mixed bag. Last year I resolved to do things I've been putting off for too long; that was a relative success, though I'm now in a position where I'm overextended and maybe showing signs of burnout. Tentatively, my goal for 2017 is to de-clutter: I need to oversimplify, get rid of deadweight and unnecessary things, and figure out my priorities. Between a full time job and forcing myself through grad school, this will not be an easy task.

This August I will turn 33 years old. While I remind myself that age is a number, being a third of a century old is another reminder of my lurching mortality. I'm an adult, and I feel like an adult, but I keep thinking but that the "fun" years of my life are coming to a close. At lot of the aforementioned deadweight is leftover things, assorted remnants from my teens and 20s that I don't need to hold on to anymore. I'm not in a rush to move on per se, but it still feels like its holding me back.

Throughout the year, I'll be posting updates on my progress. Luckily, I'll make some progress selling old sports cards on eBay and cleaning out the back of my closet, and that's just the start of it.
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